NC Rep. Cotham says mistreatment from fellow Democrats prompted party switch
State Rep. Tricia Cotham says "bullying" prompted her to leave the Democratic Party and become a Republican. She announced her decision at a news conference in Raleigh Wednesday morning.
Cotham, who represents suburban areas of Mecklenburg County, was surrounded by Republican lawmakers at the state GOP headquarters as she explained the party switch. She said colleagues from her own party treated her with suspicion and contempt; a big shift from when she previously served in the House from 2007 to 2016.
"I’ve suffered many attacks since I’ve been up here, from Democrats in the party, from blasting me on Twitter, to calling me names, to going after my family, going after my children," she said. She didn't name names, but she suggested that some of her fellow women in the Democratic caucus were among her detractors.
I’ve suffered many attacks since I’ve been up here, from Democrats in the party, from blasting me on Twitter, to calling me names, to going after my family, going after my children.Rep. Tricia Cotham
"They certainly will slice and dice you in a second with malicious, vicious, untrue rumors and do not celebrate your success," she said. She added that she's only attended one Democratic caucus meeting this session. She brought snacks and was eager to mentor freshman Democrats, but was instead labeled a freshman herself despite a decade of legislative experience, she said.
At a news conference later Wednesday, N.C. Democratic Party Chairwoman Anderson Clayton responded that "everything she’s said about what my party has done internally is off-base."
House Democratic Leader Robert Reives also said Cotham's claims are untrue. He said he’s told caucus members “not to burn down other Democrats” over differing opinions on touchy issues, and disagreements in caucus meetings are common. He also refuted Cotham's claim that he hasn't spoken to her.
"Either she’s mistaken about her recollection, or for some reason I’ve been texting somebody who’s pretending to be Tricia Cotham and having conversations," he told reporters. "We talked about Thanksgiving, we’ve talked about her election."
Cotham’s move is a big victory for Republicans. They now hold 72 seats in the House – the exact number needed to override vetoes from Governor Roy Cooper.
But Cotham wouldn’t say how she’ll vote on one of this session’s most controversial issues: abortion. She’s previously opposed new abortion restrictions.
"I am still the same person, and I am going to do what I believe is right and follow my conscience," she said. Asked specifically about a ban on abortions after 13 weeks — something Republicans are reportedly considering — she responded that "I'm not going to give any type of number on anything. There's a piece of good advice I learned a long time ago: don't discuss legislation that's not before you, so I'm not going to do that."
Democrats say Cotham could become the deciding vote on abortion and other controversial issues. They say she misled voters by running for office as a Democrat, and many at a news conference Wednesday held blue signs that said "resign."
"This is not about political vendettas, this is about the constituents," Clayton said. "This is about honesty and accountability to the people who elected her."
Asked Wednesday about the calls to resign, Cotham said the reaction is an example of why she's choosing to leave the party. She says it "really showed the low blow of where we are in this institution."
Clayton was asked if she worries that other Democratic lawmakers might leave the party. While she said she expects the caucus to stick together, "I want people to out themselves now so we know what we’re going to be up against in 2024."
NC Republican leaders praise Cotham's move
Top Republican leaders, including House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate leader Phil Berger, and U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop, praised Cotham and celebrated the move like an NFL team welcoming a top draft pick.
They sought to portray their party as the true "big tent" party that welcomes a variety of viewpoints. Moore cited his chamber's recent vote on Medicaid expansion, when more than 20 Republicans voted against the measure.
"One of the things that we pride ourselves on as Republicans is that we always tell our caucus members, 'vote your conscience, vote your district, and then vote with your caucus,'" Moore said.
Bishop said he's considered Cotham a friend for years even though they often disagree.
"We probably still will have disagreements from time to time," he said. "But this latest development in which the two major parties — or a major party — cannot abide dissenters, even on particular issues within its ranks, is something that is bad for America."
The party switch leaves a question mark on Cotham's political future: Her current district leans Democratic, and about 60% of voters there backed her last year. A switch to the GOP could make re-election difficult, but Moore said Wednesday that all state House districts will be redrawn. He wouldn't say whether that could result in a redder Mecklenburg district for Cotham.
"Of course when districts are drawn, incumbency is always taken into account," he said. "But beyond that, there's been no determination made."
As for House Democrats, Reives said they're moving on from the situation. "If we focused on hurt feelings all the time, we’d spend all our time like we were in sixth grade, and we don’t do that," he said.